Stephan Streker’s Noces ( A Wedding) which was inspired by a real incident in Belgium in 2007, is the story of Zahira (played by Lina El Arabi), a teenager and her Pakistani family living in Belgium. As Zahira goes through life with the usual challenges of any teenager – college, boyfriends and dates, she is faced with an unexpected pregnancy. But while she deals with her feelings on this and weighs it against what is expected of her from her family, she is simultaneously faced with the proposition of choosing one of her three distant cousins from her parents’ native village in Pakistan for an arranged marriage.
The topic is not a new one.. the clash of culture and tradition between first and second generation immigrants is an often discussed and hotly debated topic. As the first generation focuses on building a life in a new and unfamiliar country (often European or American), they often remain insulated from the local culture and way of life and consequently remain alienated from it even after decades in the country. They choose to hold on to beliefs, values and customs that were the norm in their native homelands (perhaps feeling safe within its confines) but this does not sit well with the children who have grown up in the adopted countries and are totally at ease with this ‘new’ culture. Very often, as in the case of Zahira, they end up living dual lives…one of an independent and liberated individual outside the home, and the other of a duty and honour bound offspring whose path is determined by tradition as defined by the parents.
The characters are all well drawn out and the actors do a brilliant job at portraying these nuances of the human psyche. Zahira’s struggle to decide about the pregnancy, but her decisiveness in ending her relationship with the man who refuses to take responsibility for it – as well as her vacillations between doing what the family wants and her inability to accept it depicts the struggle that the teenager is going through as she battles with her heart and mind. The emotions that she experiences are captured beautifully and illustrate the vulnerabilities and strength of the young woman as she shifts from an obedient daughter within the house to a confident college student outside of home seamlessly. Her brother Amir’s (Sebastien Houbani) whose love for his sister makes him her closest confidant in the family yet his loyalty to his father that forces him to uphold the family’s honour and traditions; and the love that Zahira’s parents (Babak Karimi and Neena Kulkarni) have for their children is all conveyed beautifully throughout the film through small gestures and scenes.
Also, well-depicted is the family’s joy in various elements of their culture and tradition such as food and clothing. As one watches the movie, what is never in doubt throughout is the love and concern that each family member has for the other and that while they may not agree all the time they still care about each other deeply. The film also shows the entangling of the two cultures without resorting to the typical exoticism often see in mainstream movies.
What is surprising though, is the ease with which Zahira’s family accepts her pregnancy. There are no dramatic outbursts from the parents on morality, honour or tradition nor any sort of sympathy (or empathy) for Zahira as she is left to deal with the situation on her own. The contrast between the two cultures is strikingly evident in the doctor’s room where the cost of an abortion is just 3.50 euros.
There are no clear heroes or villains in Noces – each individual is a bit of both – but what the movie does lay out is the perspectives of and challenges that are faced by immigrants coming from various backgrounds and settling into new lands. It also highlights the important issue of honour-based violence, which according to estimates takes the lives of some 5,000 women each year.
A co-production between Belgium, Luxembourg and France Noces (A Wedding) will be released in France on 22 February 2017. The film has been critically acclaimed and was screened in Singapore at The Projector via a live link from the International Film Festival Rotterdam on January 28, 2017.
 a phenomenon where a person is subjected to violence by her collective family or community in order to restore ‘honour’, presumed to have been lost by his/her behaviour, most often through expressions of sexual autonomy.